Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views by Stanley E. Porter and Beth M. Stovell

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Hermeneutical approaches have greatly expanded in recent years even within conservative Christianity. Proponents of various methods often share much common ground and therefore come to many of the same conclusions, and yet important differences often arise. In this volume the editors selected five prominent hermeneutical views and assigned a scholar to describe and defend each approach and then apply their methodology to an interpretation of Matthew 2:12-16 and its use of Hosea 11:1. A response section follows in which each scholar critiques the other four views.

Craig Blomberg champions what is normally called the historical-grammatical hermeneutic which seeks to discover the original meaning of the biblical text as intended by the author, and then make application to the current readership. While Blomberg claims to appreciate the other approaches he rightly sees his as foundational to all others (p. 28). Rather strangely, he adds the word “critical” to his methodology, terming it the “historical-critical/grammatical” view. He does so because he sees the importance of form, source and redaction criticism of the text (pp. 34-37). However historical-critical has traditionally been identified with liberal hermeneutics and higher criticism. Richard Gaffin, in his response to Blomberg, takes him to task for the use of this hyphenated word and believes it should be banned (pp. 178-182). I would agree.

The literary/postmodern approach is given by F. Scott Spencer. Much of what he offers is highly complicated and virtually incomprehensible, but when all the dust has settled he indicates that interpretation is determined more by the reader than by the original author, and in fact different readers will find different meanings (p. 67). Literary/post-modern hermeneutics is comfortable with multiple meanings.

The philosophical/theological view, explained by Merold Westphal, is somewhat similar to the last view. It finds its grounding in Friedrich Schleiermacher and the dominance of presuppositional thought (pp. 70-73). That is, what we see is based on our perspective, a concept taught by both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard (pp. 74-77). This results in a double hermeneutic in which the texts remain open to different meanings in different contexts (pp. 79-83, 138, 184).

With redemptive-historical hermeneutics, defended by Richard Gaffin Jr, we are taken from the postmodern emphasis of the former two approaches and turned to the Reformed, covenantal tradition, of the author (pp. 89-93). In this understanding Christ is “either explicitly or implicitly, its [scriptures] ubiquitous focus throughout” (p. 92), and the Old Testament is interpreted in light of the New Testament (p. 101). Gaffin is saying that in one way or another all of Scripture references Christ. Blomberg correctly critiques Gaffin’s essay by pointing out that while Luke 24:44 confirms that everything in the Old Testament that speaks of Christ has been fulfilled, not everything written in the First Testament is about Jesus (p. 142).

The canonical hermeneutic is represented by Robert Wall and looks to the canonical process for proper interpretation of Scripture. It is framed by three important practices: exegesis is constrained by the so-called “rule of faith; the “effects” of Scripture when “received” is an important witness to its full meaning; and the spiritual authority of the interpreter who is seeking new meaning yet within the guardrails of the historical church (pp. 115-117). In Spencer’s critique of this approach he warns that the rule of faith can restrict interpretation in a negative way (pp. 152-153). Gaffin is also rightly concerned that the rule of faith can become “a canon above the canon” and thus will have ultimate authority over Scripture (p 183).

Biblical Hermeneutics is a good introduction to these five approaches to Scriptural interpretation, however it is overly complicated, difficult to read and at times obscure. Even after reading the defenders of the views and the critiques by their distractors, I am still not certain I have a firm handle on the various views.

At times it seemed like the authors go out of their way to explain their views in ways that actually resists clarity.

Biblical Hermeneutics, Five Views Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Beth M. Stovell (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012), 224 pp., Paper $24.00

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher Southern View Chapel.

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